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6.56 pm

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Victor Hugo said:


I suspect that, were Victor Hugo to witness our debate today, he might caution us that an invasion of liberties might be justified, but not if it is based on an obsession with ideas whose time has passed. Sadly, we need to recall the past in order to see where we are at present. We stand at the edge of the possibility of a lasting peace in Ireland. That is as uncertain as it is exciting, and will, no doubt, bring its own challenges.

However, the opportunities offered by that possibility mean that we must roll back the frontiers of our presumptions--how far our obsessions with terrorism dictate the framework within which we view the whole of society. Given that we have reached this point, it is surprising and disappointing that the Bill would dramatically extend the scope of our definition of terrorism.

For two or three years, many of the bigglobal corporations--especially those involved with biotechnologies--have been telling us that they require new rules from Governments to protect the ability of corporations to exploit. They regularly refer to the actions of social movements that oppose them as environmental terrorism. They are keen to push this phrase into the language of our view of society and of our civil rights legislation.

Although in the UK we face a period of extended peace, it is also true that, under the agenda that is gathering for the start of the next century, there will be a dramatic growth in social movements involved in direct action. In many ways that is a consequence of Governments--including our Government--deciding that they are not able to defend public rights against corporate acquisitions. We have seen this in many of the debates on the World Trade Organisation, and in several debates on the interference with common rights of citizens in Europe. Time after time, Ministers have to stand at the Dispatch Box and say, "The hon. Member may have an important point, but I am powerless to intervene. This is outside the Government's control. We are not in a position to protect our own citizens' rights." In consequence, we are witnessing a global resurgence of citizens' movements, saying, "If democratically elected Governments can no longer protect citizens' rights, we shall have to do so ourselves."

Inevitably, some of those social movements will not only challenge the status quo but find themselves in breach of the law. It is terribly sad that we have chosen this moment to change the definition of terrorism that the

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House has worked to, in order to extend the remit of control and intrusion directly into the lives of those social movements.

At the start of the debate, the Home Secretary actually said that terrorism legislation should be directed at action by organisations that were determined to undermine the foundation of government itself. That is the definition of terrorism that makes the most sense to me. To colleagues from Northern Ireland, I would simply say that the important challenge of this time is about moving away from presumptions about terrorism and simply looking at ways in which the extension of the criminal law can be made realistic and accessible.

In that context, it would be a tragedy if we used the Bill as an opportunity to extend the mentality of terrorism into the social fabric and organisation of the whole United Kingdom. Yet that is precisely what the definition in clause 1 would seek to do. It is to turn direct action movements into potentially terrorist movements. The consequences of that would be devastatingly destructive for the whole of the social fabric of the United Kingdom.

As other hon. Members have pointed out, clause 1 raises huge questions about the language in which it is written. It is pointless for the Home Secretary to say, "I am terribly sorry; laws are constructed from language, but let me give you some assurances about meaning," because the words are the only legacy that the House gives to society in the laws that we pass. Assurances about interpretation are not deliverable in the courts or the judicial processes or, more specifically, in extrajudicial processes. There is a long history of a much more limited and destructive set of interpretations subsequently being placed on words used in legislation that has passed through this House.

Who will define "serious violence"? Who will define serious violence against the person? Who will define serious violence against property? Who will then say when an act of terrorism falls outside the scope of existing criminal law, in relation to the advancement of a political, religious or ideological cause?

Audrey Wise: Would my hon. Friend care to take account of those people who commit serious violence against property, not with a view to destroying life, but with a view to saving life? I think of those women--some of whom were acquitted--who attacked the Hawk aircraft with hammers, and of the Trident Ploughshares 2000 organisation, which attacked the Trident submarine to save life, not to destroy it. They may be right or wrong--we could discuss that at length--but are they terrorists?

Mr. Simpson: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The actions taken by the women in Trident Ploughshares 2000 were dealt with very differently in Scotland and in England. In Scotland, the sheriff acquitted them; in England, they were found guilty. However, in both cases they were tried under criminal law, not under the terrorism Acts. It is crucial for us to declare, at this stage, that such issues must be dealt with within the framework of the criminal law system. As soon as we start to moveinto presumptions about terrorism, we transform the relationship between civil protest movements and elected Parliaments and the judicial system.

Mr. Corbyn: Does my hon. Friend agree that the French Government's action in ordering the sinking of the

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Rainbow Warrior--and the death of two sailors on it--in New Zealand was an act of terrorism, as was the United States bombardment of the medical factory in the Sudan? Does he agree that, when we are talking about terrorism, we must also think very seriously about the whole concept of state terrorism?

Mr. Simpson: It just goes to show what a terribly complicated area this takes us into.

I shall cite my own examples--examples that cause me huge uncertainties about where they would fit in relation to the Bill's provisions. What happens to those Kurds who are involved in the opposition to the building of the Ilusu dam, which would forcibly remove tens of thousandsfrom their homes, and from which there would be no environmental gain but real political gain for a Government who wish to get shot of, or to silence, their Kurdish population? Many of us in this country have actively supported that movement, and yet it would appear that the wording of the Bill, especially in the definitional framework of clause 1, would make that activity illegal.

What would happen to the opposition by the tribal peoples of the Amazon to the corporate destruction of the rain forests? Many of us have also been involved in active support for those campaigns of resistance, and would certainly provide platforms and meeting places for some of the main campaigners in the United Kingdom. We would seek to work internationally to provide a framework of support for those organisations--and yet all of that would appear to be caught within definitions of terrorism in the different clauses.

I have been involved in campaigning work with Indian farmers and peasants and consumer movements, who have a campaign called Cremate Monsanto. It is terribly clear and unsophisticated. Its aim is to burn down the fields of crops that they see as likely to do devastating damage to their own ecosystem and their prospects of survival. That too would be defined as an act of terrorism within the Bill, and supporting their campaigns would also be so defined.

Mr. Hogg: One need not look abroad to see the difficulties that are posed. The plain truth is that if an organisation threatens to grub up large quantities of genetically modified crops, it is threatening an activity that falls within the scope of clause 1; and if someone wants to subscribe money to that organisation, they are committing an offence under clause 14. It is pointless for Ministers to say that the Director of Public Prosecutions would not authorise a prosecution; the plain truth is that democratic activity is inhibited by the fear of the offence that is being created.

Mr. Simpson: I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for bringing me to that point. I spoke at a rally in Oxfordshire, organised jointly by Greenpeace and Genetix Snowball. I congratulated them on having logic and ethics on their side, but said that they did not need to occupy the adjacent field of genetically modified crops. However, they took no notice of my advice, and peacefully occupied it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right that such an occupation would fall within the Bill's definition of an act of terrorism. Those who supported it

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would similarly be caught within the terms of the Bill. In this case it would not only have been myself; it would also have been the large number of decorated ex-service men who turned out in their full regalia of medals, who told me that they had fought two wars--certainly the last one against fascism--and felt that the prospects of food fascism being forced on them by multinational companies required them to come out and peacefully sit down in those fields, in the knowledge that they were destroying those crops. They were organised acts of a political or ideological nature that certainly did damage to property.

I hope that the people who committed those acts understood that they were taking risks within the existing framework of the criminal law. However, that would not, under any current circumstances, redefine them as terrorists.

We are being asked to accept a real paradigm shift. Somehow the threat to the stability of the state has given way to threats to the corporate estate, and that will be the basis for the new definition of social terrorism. That is a desperately dangerous path to go down.

On a lighter note, the Bill may result in the need to rewrite episodes in "The Archers" that dealt with the trial of Tommy Archer. Those who follow "The Archers" realise that Tommy Archer was tried under the criminal law. But, if the Bill goes through, he would have to be tried as a terrorist. If its provisions were accepted, Tommy Archer would be unlikely to get off--even in "The Archers". Is there any value to society in going down a path that runs the risk of turning large sections of its members into social terrorists?


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